Imagine if children were punished for the mistakes of their parents. Imagine if they were denied the right to belong to the place where they are born. Now, imagine those children becoming victims of neglect and abuse without legal right to protection. Just imagine them uprooted, displaced, exploited, without identity or nationality… such is the fate of stateless children.
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (TX) made a compassionate statement regarding stateless children: “Through no fault of their own, stateless children inherit a trying reality and an uncertain future. They are often denied access to basic health care and education. They cannot travel freely or access justice when necessary. As they grow older, they face significant barriers to basic freedoms like marriage, land ownership, employment, voting, or even opening a bank account”. The setting was 2007, U.S. Congressional Hearings held by the Chair of the Congressional Children’s Caucus and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, the place in question: Buthan. In case you are unaware, in Bhutan children do not have a right to Bhutanese nationality if they are born to parents who are not Bhutanese citizens. In case you haven’t heard, some groups of people want the USA to mimic Bhutan.
The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution says that all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. Current attempts to alter the US constitution would in effect deny birth right citizenship to a child born to an undocumented immigrant. Institutionalizing this discrimination in our system would place social and economic barriers for their development and growth. Where is our sense of compassion and dignity?
According to the International Report on Stateless Children, lack of citizenship has the devastating results of denial of basic necessities such as health, education, safety, and justice. Citizenship is a fundamental building block to other human rights—it is “the right to have rights.” These are international standards that aim to place children as a priority in the world. Assistance should be provided for those countries without a birth registration process and protections of minors. “Pressure should be placed on countries that do not grant children citizenship for political, economic, social, religious or cultural reasons” the report concludes (Youth Advocate Program International by S. Aird, H. Harnett, & P. Sha).
Since 1989, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognized the child’s right to citizenship. The Convention declares that children should not be victims of discrimination. Pursuant to Article 2 the Convention "applies to all children, whatever their race, religion or abilities; whatever they think or say, whatever type of family they come from. It doesn’t matter where children live, what language they speak, what their parents do, whether they are boys or girls, what their culture is, whether they have a disability or whether they are rich or poor. No child should be treated unfairly on any basis."
The sense of identity, who you are and where you belong are rooted in your birth place. The Convention spells it out "Children have the right to a nationality (to belong to a country)” and be allowed to take the steps to registration and preservation of identity, name, and nationality. The U.S. prides itself in being a leader in this world, a self-proclaimed defender of human rights. BEWARE: Leadership carries a greater responsibility, setting the example that others should emulate. Not adhering to national and international law challenges our credibility and our ability to influence others. If nothing else, consider that our children will be entrusted with the future of this nation, will bear the burden of our mistakes, and will further the prospects of our own humanity. Why aren’t we outraged at these attempts to take away their citizenship?
Children don't choose where they are born or where they live but should be protected wherever they are, be it Bhutan or the United States of America. We must defend the most vulnerable members of our society. If we don’t stand up for our children, who will?